Posts Tagged ‘Capital Reef National Park’

The Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Scenic Drive - Capitol Reef

The Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park

The aptly named Scenic Drive winds through the heart of Capitol Reef National Park, with gorgeous views of sheer cliffs and geologic interest in every direction. The paved Scenic Drive begins near the visitor center and winds for about eight miles, giving access from the road to many of the park’s most popular sights and trailheads. There are 11 viewpoints marked along the scenic road, providing an overview of the geologic history and formations.   Read more about Capitol Reef National Park.

Fruita Orchards - Capitol Reef

Orchards in the Fruita district of Capitol Reef National Park

After the visitor center, the first stop on the Scenic Drive is the historic town of Fruita, where pioneers planted orchards in the late 1800s. The Gifford Homestead still stands as an example of an historic Utah farmhouse. You won’t want to miss the fruit pies for sale during summer season! Impressive rock formations along the Scenic Drive include the 950-foot thick Moenkopi Formation, which shows banded layers of reddish-brown, grey, and burgundy sandstone and shale mixed with volcanic ash. The Chinle Formation is 700-feet thick and contains massive amounts of petrified wood. The Waterpocket Fold’s layers of sediment and rocks are clearly visible at the second stop on the Scenic Drive, telling Capitol Reef’s complex geologic history in its varying colors and textures.  View a Capitol Reef map.

Capitol Reef

Biking / Cycling Enthusiasts will enjoy the ride along Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef

The next landmark along the Scenic Drive is the spur road into the narrow, steep Grand Wash. You can drive for about one mile, and then hike the trail a couple miles further—highly recommended if you have the time and ability. The trail leads north to the massive Cassidy Arch, named for famed outlaw Butch Cassidy who used the rugged Grand Wash as a hideout. The Cassidy Arch Trail extends your hike even further, to the cliffs above the arch, for a 3.5-mile round trip strenuous hike. You can also catch a glimpse of the now-defunct Oyler Uranium Mine, which dates back to 1901.

Historic Barn - Capitol Reef

The Gifford barn in Capitol Reef National Park

The geology is diverse in Capitol Reef, as evidenced by the contrast of the sheer Wingate sandstone cliffs, the deep red shale of the Moenkopi formations, the Slickrock Divide, the yellowish-gray Shinarump sediments containing uranium that make up the Chinle formations, and the massive white Navajo Formation which stands over 1400-feet tall. At stop 10 you can see how Capitol Reef earned its name, with a white rounded dome that recalls the U.S. Capitol building, and the steep Waterpocket Fold monocline that early explorers considered a “barrier reef.”

The paved Scenic Drive road ends where the unpaved Capitol Gorge Road begins. This dirt road continues for about two miles into Capitol Gorge, where you’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle to continue on to Pleasant Creek Road and South Draw. There is a great 2.5-mile hike in Capitol Gorge, where you can find ancient petroglyphs created by the Fremont people, and see the famed Pioneer Registry carved into a canyon wall. The Tanks are pockets of eroded rock that hold rainwater, and they mark the end of the trail. If you’re up to the extremely strenuous 4-mile hike to the Golden Throne, you’ll be rewarded with dramatic views of the massive rock formation.

Visitors will pay normal park entrance fee or use their America the Beautiful Pass to access the Scenic Drive.  A normal passenger vehicle is usually fine for traveling the Scenic Drive, unless you are continuing on the dirt spur roads.  Check with the visitor center for road conditions before entering the Grand Wash or other canyons.

Cassidy Arch & Grand Wash

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Hit the trails inside Capitol Reef National Park and walk in the footsteps of history’s most famous outlaws.  The trails through the majestic Grand Wash and the spur trail to Cassidy Arch lead to some pretty unforgettable scenery as you explore the colorful canyon country.  Combining the two trails makes for a 7.5-mile roundtrip hike and hits on some of Capitol Reef’s amazing highlights.

How to reach the Grand Wash trailhead:
The Grand Wash Trail cuts through the wash all the way from the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive to Scenic Highway 24, so you can actually start at either end. Follow the Scenic Drive for about 3.4 miles from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center to the Grand Wash turn-off, then follow the maintained gravel road for 1.2 miles to the parking area.  Most passenger vehicles are able to handle the gravel road, at least during good weather. You can also enter the Grand Wash from a parking area off Scenic Highway 24, about 4.5 miles east of the visitor center.

Cassidy Arch - Grand Wash

Looking down on Cassidy Arch and toward the Grand Wash

The Grand Wash Trail:
The Grand Wash Trail is 2.25 miles one way with only a 200-foot elevation change. The easy, family-friendly hike offers lots of opportunities for kids (and grown-ups) to climb, scramble and explore—and it’s the trail you should hike if you only have time for one.  The trail follows the dry wash bed deep into the sandstone canyon, with cliffs looming up to 800-feet high.  At its narrowest, the walls are just 15 feet apart.  This half-mile section is a great introduction to slot canyon hiking and a dry alternative to Zion’s Narrows—just be sure to check the forecast for flash flood warnings.  For most of the hike along the canyon floor you’ll be following the gravel wash bed, which is pretty well-defined. The Grand Wash is one of the most popular trails in Capitol Reef but since this park is the least visited in Utah you’ll still be able to enjoy the solitude, and maybe even see some Desert Bighorn Sheep hanging out along the trail. You can also explore a few slot canyons, overhangs and spur trails along the way.

Capitol Reef hiking

Hikers from Europe pause for a photo at the Cassidy Arch trail-head.

The Cassidy Arch Trail:
The trail to Cassidy Arch forks off the Grand Wash about 3/4-mile from the parking area and ascends the cliffs to the massive arch which sits on a slickrock plateau about 500 feet above the wash. The arch is named for infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy who used to hide out in the canyon’s nooks and crannies with the Sundance Kid. The hike along the cliffs is fun but strenuous, with a rapid elevation gain (about 550 feet in a half mile), steep inclines, switchbacks, some rocky terrain and areas of the trail that aren’t clearly marked. Be sure to give kids a safety lecture before heading out, watch for drop-offs, and stop to take lots of pictures (and catch your breath) on the way up. Cairns and stairs carved in the red rock help with navigation, and the effort is well worth the payoff at trail’s end: a bird’s-eye vantage point just above the arch. If you’ve got the guts you can even hike over the arch, something you can’t do at other national parks. Give yourself at least two hours for the 3.1-mile roundtrip hike.

You can hike back whichever way you came in—back to the Grand Wash fork and either to the Scenic Road or to Scenic Highway 24—or you can hit the Frying Pan Trail, which takes you over the Waterpocket Fold and heads down into Cohab Canyon. If you choose to go straight through the gorge to the other side you’ll face a long hike back to where you started or need a shuttle waiting, so plan ahead. Weather-wise, the best time to hit these trails is during fall and spring but they’re accessible year-round.  Read more here

For additional information about these and other trails inside Capitol Reef National Park, visit